Alissa Widman Neese The Columbus Dispatch

Nov 8, 2018 at 1:43 PM Nov 8, 2018 at 2:16 PM

The Columbus Zoo and Aquarium is celebrating Polar Bear Week with a new addition to its polar bear family.

Lee, an 18-year-old male from the Denver Zoo, arrived Wednesday afternoon.

He will be quarantined behind-the-scenes for about 30 days and then be introduced to two potential mates: 11-year-old twin females Anana and Aurora.

If all goes well, the zoo could welcome bear cubs again someday.

In 2016, both of the twins gave birth: Anana to Amelia Gray, a female; and Aurora to twins Neva and Nuniq, a female and male, respectively. They were the only polar bear cubs born in a North American zoo in 2016. This year, Nuniq moved to the Henry Vilas Zoo in Madison, Wisconsin, and Amelia Gray and Neva moved to the Maryland Zoo in Baltimore.

Aurora also gave birth to a female cub, Nora, in 2015, who has since been moved to Utah’s Hogle Zoo in Salt Lake City.

Nanuq, the 29-year-old father to all the cubs, was euthanized last year after developing liver cancer.

The Association of Zoos and Aquariums, a nonprofit group of more than 230 accredited members in the United States and abroad, recommended Lee be moved to Columbus to ensure breeding continues, to increase the number of polar bears in member zoos, and to maximize the population’s genetic diversity.

There are less than 50 polar bears in North American zoos.

In 2008, the species was the first to be listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act, primarily because of climate change.

Polar bear populations are declining as sea ice disappears and experts estimate that only 20,000 to 25,000 bears are left in their native ranges. Some scientists think if the warming trend continues, two-thirds of the polar bear population could disappear by 2050.

Every first full week of November, Polar Bears International, a nonprofit conservation group, celebrates Polar Bear Week. It coincides with the fall migration to Churchill, Manitoba, where bears gather to wait for Hudson Bay to freeze so they can resume hunting seals after warmer summer months.

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